We sat down to chat with Zhixin Zheng, a second year BA Geography student, about her volunteering experience with The Gardens Trust and North London Cares!

Would you be able to introduce yourself and the types of volunteering that you have been doing?

Hi, I'm Zhixin! I'm moving into second year doing a BA Geography.

My current volunteering is with The Gardens Trust. It's a non-profit organisation in the UK that cares for historic gardens and heritage conservation sites. I’ve also volunteered with North London Cares in their social clubs.

Would you be able to describe your role with The Gardens Trust?

I do event marketing and outreach with The Gardens Trust, and I work with the education and outreach teams to promote their events. One of the projects I'm currently working on is a series of talks about Hisui Sugiura, a Japanese graphic designer who also did a lot of botanical art. The lectures focus on the role of botanical art in his graphic design career, and how he’s contributed to the discipline. My role is to promote this talk to more organisations, which will help to increase awareness about the work of The Gardens Trust.

It's a very flexible job. I work on it for about half a day every week – about 3 or 4 hours each week. It’s also quite flexible – right now I'm doing it remotely from Singapore. I found the flexibility very desirable for me.

What was the highlight of your volunteering with The Gardens Trust?

The reason I got into The Gardens Trust was that, as a Geography major, I am very interested in heritage conservation and protecting natural areas. What is most interesting to me is that a lot of their work isn’t just about campaigning for the conservation of natural areas, but also raising greater awareness of the importance of nature as a whole. For example, they look at nature’s relation to art and culture. It was a nice learning about and exploring beyond the areas that I was expecting them to go!

It was a nice learning about and exploring beyond the areas that I was expecting them to go!

Where there any challenges you encountered volunteering with The Gardens Trust?

One of the challenges is just that a lot of the work I’m doing now is quite new to me – for example, having to find the contact details of professors in university departments, or even just thinking about who might be interested in attending these talks. But I can always discuss these things with the team and they give me a lot of feedback and help.

What type of volunteering did you do with North London Cares?

With North London Cares, I was going down to the community centres and primarily interacting with our older neighbours in Camden and Islington. We would do a bunch of things in the social clubs like helping them with technology or cooking together, for example.

What was your highlight of volunteering with North London Cares?

I think my main highlight was getting to interact with a group of people that was very different from everyone at uni. I tend to be in a bit of a bubble with fellow young adults and a lot of people who are not local to London. But at North London Cares, the older neighbours have been living in London for a large part of their lives and some of them even studied in UCL as well. It’s always lovely just talking to them about our shared experiences, as well as how things have changed.

Would you recommend the experience of volunteering to others?

I would definitely recommend volunteering because you get to work with a lot of people outside your normal friends at UCL. It’s a great opportunity to contribute my time and skills meaningfully while also getting to know new people and community groups.

I think volunteering is also good because it's very flexible. For me, it was a few hours of commitment every week at most, and I didn't really have to do them on a fixed day. So compared to a lot of part time work or internships, I think volunteering is something that I could keep doing for a pretty extended period of time, and scale up or down depending on my weekly schedule and other commitments.

Ultimately, I think volunteering is a great way to learn new skills and try new things without having any consequences since it's a volunteering role and the teams we work with are very open to the fact that we're all new, and we're all just learning and trying to give our best.

It’s a great opportunity to contribute my time and skills meaningfully while also getting to know new people and community groups.

Thank you to Zhixin for sharing her experience with us! If you are looking to get involved in volunteering, make sure to check out our directory of all the current opportunities available.